E.A.Poe - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

                                         Son coeur  est un  luth suspendu;
                                        Sitot qu'on  le touche il resonne.
                                                              De Beranger.

     During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn  of
the year, when the clouds hung  oppressively low in the heavens, had  been
passing  alone,  on  horseback,  through  a  singularly  dreary  tract  of
country; and at  length found myself,  as the shades  of the evening  drew
on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was  -
but,  with  the  first  glimpse  of  the building, a sense of insufferable
gloom  pervaded  my  spirit.  I  say  insufferable;  for  the  feeling was
unrelieved by  any of  that half-pleasurable,  because poetic,  sentiment,
with which the mind usually  receives even the sternest natural  images of
the desolate or  terrible. I looked  upon the scene  before me -  upon the
mere house, and  the simple landscape  features of the  domain - upon  the
bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges  -
and upon a few  white trunks of decayed  trees - with an  utter depression
of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than  to
the  after-dream  of  the  reveller  upon  opium  -  the bitter lapse into
everyday life-the hideous  dropping off of  the reveller upon  opium - the
bitter lapse into everyday  life - the hideous  dropping off of the  veil.
There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an  unredeemed
dreariness of thought  which no goading  of the imagination  could torture
into aught of the sublime. What was it  - I paused to think - what was  it
that so unnerved me in the contemplation  of the House of Usher? It was  a
mystery all insoluble; nor could  I grapple with the shadowy  fancies that
crowded  upon  me  as  I  pondered.  I  was  forced  to fall back upon the
unsatisfactory   conclusion,   that   while,   beyond   doubt,  there  are
combinations of very simple natural  objects which have the power  of thus
affecting us, still the analysis  of this power lies among  considerations
beyond our  depth. It  was possible,  I reflected,  that a  mere different
arrangement  of  the  particulars  of  the  scene,  of  the details of the
picture,  would  be  sufficient  to  modify,  or perhaps to annihilate its
capacity for sorrowful  impression; and, acting  upon this idea,  I reined
my horse to the  precipitous brink of a  black and lurid tarn  that lay in
unruffled lustre  by the  dwelling, and  gazed down  - but  with a shudder
even more thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted  images
of  the  gray  sedge,  and  the  ghastly  tree-stems,  and  the vacant and
eye-like windows. Nevertheless,  in this mansion  of gloom I  now proposed
to myself  asojourn of  some weeks.  Its proprietor,  Roderick Usher,  had
been  one  ofmy  boon  companions  in  boyhood; but many years had elapsed
since  ourlast  meeting.  A  letter,  however,  had lately reached me in a
distantpart  of  the  country  -  a  letter  from  him  -  which,  in  its
wildlyimportunate  nature,  had  admitted  of  no  other  than  a personal
reply.The  MS.  gave  evidence  of  nervous  agitation.  The  writer spoke
ofacute bodily illness -  of a mental disorder  which oppressed him -  and
of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only  personal
friend, with  a view  of attempting,  by the  cheerfulness of  my society,
some alleviation of his malady. It  was the manner in which all  this, and
much more, was said - it the  apparent heart that went with his request  -
which  allowed  me  no  room  for  hesitation;  and  I  accordingly obeyed
forthwith what I  still considered a  very singular summons.  Although, as
boys, we had been even intimate  associates, yet really knew little of  my
friend. His reserve had been  always excessive and habitual. I  was aware,
however, that his very  ancient family had been  noted, time out of  mind,
for  a  peculiar  sensibility  of  temperament, displaying itself, through
long ages,  in many  works of  exalted art,  and manifested,  of late,  in
repeated deeds  of munificent  yet unobtrusive  charity, as  well as  in a
passionate devotion  to the  intricacies, perhaps  even more  than to  the
orthodox  and  easily  recognisable  beauties,  of  musical science. I had
learned, too,  t remarkable  fact, that  the stem  of the  Usher race, all
time-honoured  as  it  was,  had  put  forth,  at  no period, any enduring
branch; in other words, that the  entire family lay in the direct  line of
descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary  variation,
so  lain.  It  was  this  deficiency,  I considered, while running over in
thought the  perfect keeping  of the  character of  the premises  with the
accredited  character  of  the  people,  and  while  speculating  upon the
possible influence which  the one, in  the long lapse  of centuries, might
have  exercised  upon  the  other  -  it  was this deficiency, perhaps, of
collateral issue, and the  consequent undeviating transmission, from  sire
to  son,  of  the  patrimony  withthe  name,  which  had,  at  length,  so
identified the two  as to merge  the original title  of the estate  in the
quaint and equivocal appellation of the "House of Usher" - an  appellation
which seemed to include, in the  minds of the peasantry who used  it, both
the family and the family mansion. I have said that the sole effect of  my
somewhat childish experiment - that of looking down within the tarn -  had
been to deepen the first singular  impression. There can be no doubt  that
the  consciousness  of  the  rapid  increase  of my superstition - for why
should  I  not  so  term  it?  -  served mainly to accelerate the increase
itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all  sentiments
having terror as  a basis. And  it might have  been for this  reason only,
that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the houseitself, from its image  in
the pool, there grew in my mind  a strange fancy - a fancy so  ridiculous,
indeed, that I but  mention it to show  the vivid force of  the sensations
which oppressed  me. I  had so  worked upon  my imagination  as really  to
believe that about the whole  mansion and domain there hung  an atmosphere
peculiar to themselves and  their immediate vicinity- an  atmosphere which
had no affinity with the air of  heaven, but which had reeked up from  the
decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn - a pest and  mystic
vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.
     Shaking off from  my spirit what  must have been  a dream, I  scanned
more  narrowly  the  real  aspect  of  the building. Its principal feature
seemed to  be that  of an  excessive antiquity.  The discoloration of ages
had been great. Minute fungi  overspread the whole exterior, hanging  in a
fine tangled  web-work from  the eaves.  Yet all  this was  apart from any
extraordinary  dilapidation.  No  portion  of  the masonry had fallen; and
there  appeared  to  be  a  wild  inconsistency  between its still perfect
adaptation  of  parts,  and  the  crumbling  condition  of  the individual
stones. In this there was much  that reminded me of the specious  totality
of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected  vault,
with  no  disturbance  from  the  breath  of the external air. Beyond this
indication of extensive  decay, however, the  fabric gave little  token of
instability.  Perhaps  the  eye  of  a  scrutinising  observer  might have
discovered a barely  perceptible fissure, which,  extending from the  roof
of  the  building  in  front,  made  its  way  down  the  wall in a zigzag
direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.
     Noticing these things, I rode over  a short causeway to the house.  A
servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of  the
hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence,  through
many dark  and intricate  passages in  my progress  to the  studio of  his
master. Much that I  encountered on the way  contributed, I know not  how,
to heighten  the vague  sentiments of  which I  have already spoken. While
the objects around  me - while  the carvings of  the ceilings, the  sombre
tapestries  of  the  walls,  the  ebon  blackness  of  the floors, and the
phantasmagoric  armorial  trophies  which  rattled  as  I strode, were but
matters to  which, or  to such  as which,  I had  been accustomed  from my
infancy - while I hesitated not  to acknowledge how familiar was all  this
- I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which  ordinary
images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician  of
the family. His countenance, I  thought, wore a mingled expression  of low
cunning and  perplexity. He  accosted me  with trepidation  and passed on.
The valet now threw  open a door and  ushered me into the  presence of his
master.
     The  room  in  which  I  found  myself  was very large and lofty. The
windows were long,  narrow, and pointed,  and at so  vast a distance  from
the  black  oaken  floor  as  to  be  altogether inaccessible from within.
Feeble gleams of  encrimsoned light made  their way through  the trellised
panes,  and  served  to  render  sufficiently  distinct the more prominent
objects around the  eye, however, struggled  in vain to  reach the remoter
angles  of  the  chamber,  or  the  recesses  of  the  vaulted and fretted
ceiling. Dark  draperies hung  upon the  walls. The  general furniture was
profuse,  comfortless,  antique,  and  tattered.  Many  books  and musical
instruments lay scattered  about, but failed  to give any  vitality to the
scene. I felt that  I breathed an atmosphere  of sorrow. An air  of stern,
deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
     Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been  lying
at full length, and greeted me  with a vivacious warmth which had  much in
it, I at  first thought, of  an overdone cordiality  - of the  constrained
effort  of  the  ennuye  man  of  the  world.  A  glance,  however, at his
countenance, convinced me of his  perfect sincerity. We sat down;  and for
some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half  of
pity, half of awe.  Surely, man had never  before so terribly altered,  in
so brief a period,  as had Roderick Usher!  It was with difficulty  that I
could bring myself to admit the  identity of the wan being before  me with
the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had  been
at all  times remarkable.  A cadaverousness  of complexion;  an eye large,
liquid,  and  luminous  beyond  comparison;  lips  somewhat  thin and very
pallid,  but  of  a  surpassingly  beautiful  curve;  a nose of a delicate
Hebrew  model,  but  with  a   breadth  of  nostril  unusual  in   similar
formations; a finely  moulded chin, speaking,  in its want  of prominence,
of a  want of  moral energy;  hair of  a more  than web-like  softness and
tenuity; these features,  with an inordinate  expansion above the  regions
of  the  temple,  made  up  altogether  a  countenance  not  easily  to be
forgotten. And now  in the mere  exaggeration of the  prevailing character
of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay  so
much of change that I doubted to  whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor  of
the skin,  and the  now miraculous  lustre of  the eve,  above all  things
startled and  even awed  me. The  silken hair,  too, had  been suffered to
grow  all  unheeded,  and  as,  in  its  wild gossamer texture, it floated
rather than fell about  the face, I could  not, even with effort,  connect
its Arabesque expression with any  idea of simple humanity. In  the manner
of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence - an  inconsistency;
and  I  soon  found  this  to  arise  from  a  series of feeble and futile
struggles  to  overcome  an  habitual  trepidancy  -  an excessive nervous
agitation. For  something of  this nature  I had  indeed been prepared, no
less by his  letter, than by  reminiscences of certain  boyish traits, and
by  conclusions  deduced  from  his  peculiar  physical  conformation  and
temperament. His action  was alternately vivacious  and sullen. His  voice
varied  rapidly  from  a  tremulous  indecision  (when  the animal spirits
seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision -  that
abrupt,  weighty,  unhurried,  and  hollow-sounding  enunciation  -   that
leaden, self-balanced  and perfectly  modulated guttural  utterance, which
may  be  observed  in  the  lost  drunkard,  or the irreclaimable eater of
opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.
     It was thus that he spoke of  the object of my visit, of his  earnest
desire to  see me,  and of  the solace  he expected  me to  afford him. He
entered, at some length,  into what he conceived  to be the nature  of his
malady. It was, he said, a  constitutional and a family evil, and  one for
which  he  despaired  to  find  a  remedy  -  a mere nervous affection, he
immediately added,  which would  undoubtedly soon  pass off.  It displayed
itself in a host  of unnatural sensations. Some  of these, as he  detailed
them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and  the
general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from  a
morbid  acuteness  of  the  senses;  the  most  insipid  food  was   alone
endurable; he could wear only  garments of certain texture; the  odours of
all  flowers  were  oppressive;  his  eyes  were  tortured by even a faint
light;  and  there  were  but  peculiar  sounds,  and  these from stringed
instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.
     To an anomalous  species of terror  I found him  a bounden slave.  "I
shall perish,"  said he,  "I must  perish in  this deplorable folly. Thus,
thus,  and  not  otherwise,  shall  I  be  lost. I dread the events of the
future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the  thought
of  any,  even  the  most  trivial,  incident, which may operate upon this
intolerable agitation of  soul. I have,  indeed, no abhorrence  of danger,
except  in  its  absolute  effect  -  in  terror. In this unnerved-in this
pitiable condition - I  feel that the period  will sooner or later  arrive
when I must abandon  life and reason together,  in some struggle with  the
grim phantasm, FEAR."
     I learned, moreover, at  intervals, and through broken  and equivocal
hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was  enchained
by certain superstitious  impressions in regard  to the dwelling  which he
tenanted, and whence,  for many years,  he had never  ventured forth -  in
regard to an  influence whose supposititious  force was conveyed  in terms
too shadowy here to be  re-stated - an influence which  some peculiarities
in the  mere form  and substance  of his  family mansion,  had, by dint of
long sufferance,  he said,  obtained over  his spirit-an  effect which the
physique of the  gray walls and  turrets, and of  the dim tarn  into which
they all looked  down, had, at  length, brought about  upon the morale  of
his existence.
     He  admitted,  however,  although  with  hesitation, that much of the
peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more  natural
and far more palpable origin - to the severe and long-continued illness  -
indeed  to  the  evidently  approaching  dissolution-of a tenderly beloved
sister - his sole  companion for long years  - his last and  only relative
on earth.  "Her decease,"  he said,  with a  bitterness which  I can never
forget, "would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of  the
ancient race of  the Ushers." While  he spoke, the  lady Madeline (for  so
was she called) passed slowly  through a remote portion of  the apartment,
and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her  with
an  utter  astonishment  not  unmingled  with  dread  - and yet I found it
impossible to account for such  feelings. A sensation of stupor  oppressed
me, as  my eyes  followed her  retreating steps.  When a  door, at length,
closed  upon  her,  my  glance   sought  instinctively  and  eagerly   the
countenance of the brother - but he had buried his face in his hands,  and
I  could  only  perceive  that  a  far  more  than  ordinary  wanness  had
overspread the  emaciated fingers  through which  trickled many passionate
tears.
     The disease of the  lady Madeline had long  baffled the skill of  her
physicians. A settled  apathy, a gradual  wasting away of  the person, and
frequent  although  transient  affections  of  a  partially   cataleptical
character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne  up
against the pressure  of her malady,  and had not  betaken herself finally
to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the  house,
she  succumbed  (as  her  brother  told  me  at  night  within expressible
agitation) to the prostrating power  of the destroyer; and I  learned that
the glimpse I had obtained of  her person would thus probably be  the last
I should obtain - that the lady,  at least while living, would be seen  by
me no more.
     For several days  ensuing, her name  was unmentioned by  either Usher
or myself: and during  this period I was  busied in earnest endeavours  to
alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or  I
listened, as if  in a dream,  to the wild  improvisations of his  speaking
guitar.  And  thus,  as  a  closer  and  still  intimacy  admitted me more
unreservedly into  the recesses  of his  spirit, the  more bitterly  did I
perceive  the  futility  of  all  attempt  at  cheering  a mind from which
darkness,  as  if  an  inherent  positive  quality,  poured forth upon all
objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation  of
gloom.
     I shall ever bear about me a  memory of the many solemn hours I  thus
spent alone with the  master of the House  of Usher. Yet I  should fail in
any attempt to convey  an idea of the  exact character of the  studies, or
of  the  occupations,  in  which  he  involved  me,  or led me the way. An
excited and highly  distempered ideality threw  a sulphureous lustre  over
all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my cars. Among  other
things,  I  hold  painfully  in  mind  a  certain  singular perversion and
amplification of the  wild air of  the last waltz  of Von Weber.  From the
paintings over which  his elaborate fancy  brooded, and which  grew, touch
by touch,  into vaguenesses  at which  I shuddered  the more  thrillingly,
because I  shuddered knowing  not why;  - from  these paintings  (vivid as
their images now are  before me) I would  in vain endeavour to  educe more
than  a  small  portion  which  should  lie  within  the compass of merely
written words. By the utter  simplicity, by the nakedness of  his designs,
he arrested and overawed attention.  If ever mortal painted an  idea, that
mortal was Roderick  Usher. For me  at least -  in the circumstances  then
surrounding  me  -  there  arose  out  of  the pure abstractions which the
hypochondriac  contrived  to  throw  upon  his  canvas,  an  intensity  of
intolerable awe, no shadow of which  felt I ever yet in the  contemplation
of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.
     One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not  so
rigidly of  the spirit  of abstraction,  may be  shadowed forth,  although
feebly, in words. A small  picture presented the interior of  an immensely
long and rectangular vault or  tunnel, with low walls, smooth,  white, and
without interruption  or device.  Certain accessory  points of  the design
served well to convey  the idea that this  excavation lay at an  exceeding
depth  below  the  surface  of  the  earth.  No outlet was observed in any
portion of its vast  extent, and no torch,  or other artificial source  of
light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout,  and
bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendour.
     I have  just spoken  of that  morbid condition  of the auditory nerve
which rendered all music intolerable  to the sufferer, with the  exception
of certain effects  of stringed instruments.  It was, perhaps,  the narrow
limits  to  which  he  thus  confined  himself upon the guitar, which gave
birth, in great measure, to  the fantastic character of his  performances.
But the fervid facility of his  impromptus could not be so accounted  for.
They must have been, and  were, in the notes, as  well as in the words  of
his  wild  fantasias  (for  he  not  unfrequently accompanied himself with
rhymed  verbal  improvisations),  the   result  of  that  intense   mental
collectedness  and  concentration  to  which  I have previously alluded as
observable  only  in   particular  moments  of   the  highest   artificial
excitement.  The  words  of  one   of  these  rhapsodies  I  have   easily
remembered. I  was, perhaps,  the more  forcibly impressed  with it, as he
gave  it,  because,  in  the  under  or  mystic  current of its meaning, I
fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness  on
the part of Usher, of the  tottering of his lofty reason upon  her throne.
The verses, which were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very nearly,  if
not accurately, thus:

          I.
     In the greenest of our valleys,
     By good angels tenanted,
     Once fair and stately palace -
     Radiant palace - reared its head.
     In the monarch Thought's dominion -
     It stood there!
     Never seraph spread a pinion
     Over fabric half so fair.

          II.
     Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
     On its roof did float and flow;
     (This - all this - was in the olden
     Time long ago)
     And every gentle air that dallied,
     In that sweet day,
     Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
     A winged odour went away.

          III.
     Wanderers in that happy valley
     Through two luminous windows saw
     Spirits moving musically
     To a lute's well-tuned law,
     Round about a throne, where sitting
     (Porphyrogene!)
     In state his glory well befitting,
     The ruler of the realm was seen.

          IV.
     And all with pearl and ruby glowing
     Was the fair palace door,
     Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
     And sparkling evermore,
     A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
     Was but to sing,
     In voices of surpassing beauty,
     The wit and wisdom of their king.

          V.
     But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
     Assailed the monarch's high estate;
     (Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
     Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
     And, round about his home, the glory
     That blushed and bloomed
     Is but a dim-remembered story
     Of the old time entombed.

          VI.
     And travellers now within that valley,
     Through the red-litten windows, see
     Vast forms that move fantastically
     To a discordant melody;
     While, like a rapid ghastly river,
     Through the pale door,
     A hideous throng rush out forever,
     And laugh - but smile no more.

     I well  remember that  suggestions arising  from this  ballad led  us
into  a  train  of  thought  wherein  there  became manifest an opinion of
Usher's which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for  other
men have thought  thus,) as on  account of the  pertinacity with which  he
maintained  it.  This  opinion,  in  its  general  form,  was  that of the
sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the  idea
had  assumed  a  more  daring  character,  and  trespassed,  under certain
conditions, upon the  kingdom of inorganization.  I lack words  to express
the full  extent, or  the earnest  abandon of  his persuasion. The belief,
however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray  stones
of the home of his forefathers.  The conditions of the sentience had  been
here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these  stones
- in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many  fungi
which  overspread  them,  and  of  the  decayed trees which stood around -
above all, in the long  undisturbed endurance of this arrangement,  and in
its reduplication  in the  still waters  of the  tarn. Its  evidence - the
evidence of the sentience - was to  be seen, he said, (and I here  started
as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere  of
their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable,  he
added, in that  silent, yet importunate  and terrible influence  which for
centuries had  moulded the  destinies of  his family,  and which  made him
what I now  saw him -  what he was.  Such opinions need  no comment, and I
will make none.
     Our books - the books which,  for years, had formed no small  portion
of the mental existence  of the invalid -  were, as might be  supposed, in
strict keeping  with this  character of  phantasm. We  pored together over
such  works  as  the  Ververt  et  Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of
Machiavelli; the Heaven  and Hell of  Swedenborg; the Subterranean  Voyage
of  Nicholas  Klimm  by  Holberg;  the  Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean
D'Indagine, and of De  la Chambre; the Journey  into the Blue Distance  of
Tieck; and the City of the  Sun of Campanella. One favourite volume  was a
small octavo  edition of  the Directorium  Inquisitorum, by  the Dominican
Eymeric de Gironne; and there  were passages in Pomponius Mela,  about the
old African Satyrs and AEgipans,  over which Usher would sit  dreaming for
hours.  His  chief  delight,  however,  was  found  in  the  perusal of an
exceedingly rare  and curious  book in  quarto Gothic  - the  manual of  a
forgotten  church  -  the  Vigilae  Mortuorum  secundum  Chorum  Ecclesiae
Maguntinae.
     I could not  help thinking of  the wild ritual  of this work,  and of
its probable influence upon  the hypochondriac, when, one  evening, having
informed me abruptly  that the lady  Madeline was no  more, he stated  his
intention of  preserving her  corpse for  a fortnight,  (previously to its
final interment,) in one of the  numerous vaults within the main walls  of
the  building.  The  worldly  reason,  however, assigned for this singular
proceeding,  was  one  which  I  did  not  feel at liberty to dispute. The
brother had been led  to his resolution (so  he told me) by  consideration
of  the  unusual  character  of  the  malady  of  the deceased, of certain
obtrusive and eager inquiries on the  part of her medical men, and  of the
remote and exposed  situation of the  burial-ground of the  family. I will
not  deny  that  when  I  called  to  mind the sinister countenance of the
person whom I  met upon the  stair case, on  the day of  my arrival at the
house,  I  had  no  desire  to  oppose  what  I  regarded as at best but a
harmless, and by no means an unnatural, precaution.
     At the request of Usher,  I personally aided him in  the arrangements
for the  temporary entombment.  The body  having been  encoffined, we  two
alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which  had
been so long unopened that  our torches, half smothered in  its oppressive
atmosphere,  gave  us  little  opportunity  for  investigation) was small,
damp, and entirely without means  of admission for light; lying,  at great
depth, immediately beneath  that portion of  the building in  which was my
own sleeping  apartment. It  had been  used, apparently,  in remote feudal
times, for the worst purposes of  a donjon-keep, and, in later days,  as a
place of deposit for powder,  or some other highly combustible  substance,
as  a  portion  of  its  floor,  and  the whole interior of a long archway
through which  we reached  it, were  carefully sheathed  with copper.  The
door, of massive  iron, had been,  also, similarly protected.  Its immense
weight  caused  an  unusually  sharp  grating  sound, as it moved upon its
hinges. Having  deposited our  mournful burden  upon tressels  within this
region of horror, we partially turned  aside the yet unscrewed lid of  the
coffin, and  looked upon  the face  of the  tenant. A  striking similitude
between  the  brother  and  sister  now  first  arrested my attention; and
Usher, divining, perhaps,  my thoughts, murmured  out some few  words from
which I learned  that the deceased  and himself had  been twins, and  that
sympathies of a  scarcely intelligible nature  had always existed  between
them. Our glances, however, rested not  long upon the dead - for  we could
not regard her  unawed. The disease  which had thus  entombed the lady  in
the maturity of youth,  had left, as usual  in all maladies of  a strictly
cataleptical character, the  mockery of a  faint blush upon  the bosom and
the face, and that suspiciously lingering  smile upon the lip which is  so
terrible  in  death.  We  replaced  and  screwed down the lid, and, having
secured the door of iron, made our way, with toll, into the scarcely  less
gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.
     And now,  some days  of bitter  grief having  elapsed, an  observable
change came over  the features of  the mental disorder  of my friend.  His
ordinary manner had vanished.  His ordinary occupations were  neglected or
forgotten. He roamed  from chamber to  chamber with hurried,  unequal, and
objectless step. The pallor of  his countenance had assumed, if  possible,
a more  ghastly hue  - but  the luminousness  of his  eye had utterly gone
out. The once occasional  huskiness of his tone  was heard no more;  and a
tremulous quaver, as  if of extreme  terror, habitually characterized  his
utterance.  There  were  times,  indeed,  when  I  thought his unceasingly
agitated mind was labouring with some oppressive secret, to divulge  which
he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged  to
resolve all into the mere  inexplicable vagaries of madness, for  I beheld
him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the  profoundest
attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder  that
his condition terrified-that it infected  me. I felt creeping upon  me, by
slow yet  certain degrees,  the wild  influences of  his own fantastic yet
impressive superstitions.
     It was, especially,  upon retiring to  bed late in  the night of  the
seventh or eighth day  after the placing of  the lady Madeline within  the
donjon, that  I experienced  the full  power of  such feelings. Sleep came
not near my couch - while the  hours waned and waned away. I struggled  to
reason off the  nervousness which had  dominion over me.  I endeavoured to
believe that much, if not all of  what I felt, was due to the  bewildering
influence of the gloomy furniture of  the room - of the dark  and tattered
draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising  tempest,
swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about  the
decorations of the  bed. But my  efforts were fruitless.  An irrepressible
tremour gradually  pervaded my  frame; and,  at length,  there sat upon my
very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with  a
gasp and  a struggle,  I uplifted  myself upon  the pillows,  and, peering
earnestly within the intense darkness  of the chamber, hearkened -  I know
not why, except that  an instinctive spirit prompted  me - to certain  low
and indefinite  sounds which  came, through  the pauses  of the  storm, at
long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment  of
horror, unaccountable yet  unendurable, I threw  on my clothes  with haste
(for  I  felt  that  I  should  sleep  no  more  during  the  night),  and
endeavoured to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I  had
fallen, by pacing rapidly to and froth rough the apartment.
     I had taken  but few turns  in this manner,  when a light  step on an
adjoining staircase arrested  my attention. I  presently recognised it  as
that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch,  at
my  door,  and  entered,  bearing  a  lamp. His countenance was, as usual,
cadaverously wan - but, moreover, there  was a species of mad hilarity  in
his eyes -  an evidently restrained  hysteria in his  whole demeanour. His
air appalled me - but anything was preferable to the solitude which I  had
so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.
     "And you  have not  seen it?"  he said  abruptly, after having stared
about him  for some  moments in  silence -  "you have  not then seen it? -
but, stay!  you shall."  Thus speaking,  and having  carefully shaded  his
lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to  the
storm.
     The impetuous  fury of  the entering  gust nearly  lifted us from our
feet. It was, indeed, a  tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night,  and one
wildly singular in its terror  and its beauty. A whirlwind  had apparently
collected its force in our  vicinity; for there were frequent  and violent
alterations in  the direction  of the  wind; and  the exceeding density of
the clouds (which hung so low as  to press upon the turrets of the  house)
did not  prevent our  perceiving the  life-like velocity  with which  they
flew careering from  all points against  each other, without  passing away
into  the  distance.  I  say  that  even  their  exceeding density did not
prevent our perceiving this - yet we  had no glimpse of the moon or  stars
-  nor  was  there  any  flashing  forth  of  the lightning. But the under
surfaces  of  the  huge  masses  of  agitated  vapour,  as  well  as   all
terrestrial objects immediately around  us, were glowing in  the unnatural
light  of  a  faintly  luminous  and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation
which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.
     "You must not - you shall not behold this!" said I, shudderingly,  to
Usher, as I led  him, with a gentle  violence, from the window  to a seat.
"These appearances,  which bewilder  you, are  merely electrical phenomena
not uncommon -  or it may  be that they  have their ghastly  origin in the
rank  miasma  of  the  tarn.  Let  us  close  this  casement; - the air is
chilling  and  dangerous  to  your  frame.  Here  is one of your favourite
romances. I will read,  and you shall listen;  - and so we  will pass away
this terrible night together."
     The antique volume which  I had taken up  was the "Mad Trist"  of Sir
Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favourite of Usher's more in  sad
jest than in earnest;  for, in truth, there  is little in its  uncouth and
unimaginative prolixity which  could have had  interest for the  lofty and
spiritual  ideality  of  my  friend.  It  was,  however,  the  only   book
immediately  at  hand;  and  I  indulged  a vague hope that the excitement
which now agitated the hypochondriac,  might find relief (for the  history
of mental disorder is full  of similar anomalies) even in  the extremeness
of the  folly which  I should  read. Could  I have  judged, indeed, by the
wild over-strained air of vivacity with which he hearkened, or  apparently
hearkened,  to  the  words  of  the  tale, I might well have congratulated
myself upon the success of my design.
     I  had  arrived  at  that  well-known  portion  of  the  story  where
Ethelred,  the  hero  of  the  Trist,  having sought in vain for peaceable
admission  into  the  dwelling  of  the  hermit,  proceeds to make good an
entrance  by  force.  Here,  it  will  be  remembered,  the  words  of the
narrative run thus:
     "And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was  now
mighty withal, on  account of the  powerfulness of the  wine which he  had
drunken, waited no longer to hold  parley with the hermit, who, in  sooth,
was of an  obstinate and maliceful  turn, but, feeling  the rain upon  his
shoulders,  and  fearing  the  rising  of  the  tempest, uplifted his mace
outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the  door
for  his  gauntleted  hand;  and  now  pulling  there-with sturdily, he so
cracked, and ripped, and tore all  asunder, that the noise of the  dry and
hollow-sounding wood alarumed and reverberated throughout the forest.
     At the  termination of  this sentence  I started,  and for  a moment,
paused;  for  it  appeared  to  me  (although  I at once concluded that my
excited fancy had deceived  me) - it appeared  to me that, from  some very
remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears,  what
might have been,  in its exact  similarity of character,  the echo (but  a
stifled and  dull one  certainly) of  the very  cracking and ripping sound
which Sir Launcelot had so  particularly described. It was, beyond  doubt,
the  coincidence  alone  which  had  arrested  my attention; for, amid the
rattling  of  the  sashes  of  the  casements, and the ordinary commingled
noises of the still increasing  storm, the sound, in itself,  had nothing,
surely, which  should have  interested or  disturbed me.  I continued  the
story:
     "But the good  champion Ethelred, now  entering within the  door, was
sore enraged  and amazed  to perceive  no signal  of the maliceful hermit;
but, in the stead thereof, a  dragon of a scaly and prodigious  demeanour,
and of a fiery tongue, which sate  in guard before a palace of gold,  with
a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining  brass
with this legend enwritten -

     Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
     Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

     And  Ethelred  uplifted  his  mace,  and  struck upon the head of the
dragon,  which  fell  before  him,  and  gave  up his pesty breath, with a
shriek so  horrid and  harsh, and  withal so  piercing, that  Ethelred had
fain to close his  ears with his hands  against the dreadful noise  of it,
the like whereof was never before heard."
     Here  again  I  paused  abruptly,  and  now  with  a  feeling of wild
amazement - for there could be  no doubt whatever that, in this  instance,
I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found  it
impossible to say)  a low and  apparently distant, but  harsh, protracted,
and most  unusual screaming  or grating  sound -  the exact counterpart of
what my fancy  had already conjured  up for the  dragon's unnatural shriek
as described by the romancer.
     Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of the second  and
most extraordinary coincidence, by  a thousand conflicting sensations,  in
which  wonder  and  extreme  terror  were  predominant,  I  still retained
sufficient presence  of mind  to avoid  exciting, by  any observation, the
sensitive nervousness of my companion. I  was by no means certain that  he
had  noticed  the  sounds  in  question;  although,  assuredly,  a strange
alteration  had,  during  the  last  few  minutes,  taken  place  in   his
demeanour.  From  a  position  fronting  my  own, he had gradually brought
round his chair, so as  to sit with his face  to the door of the  chamber;
and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw  that
his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had  dropped
upon his breast  - yet I  knew that he  was not asleep,  from the wide and
rigid opening  of the  eye as  I caught  a glance  of it  in profile.  The
motion of his body,  too, was at variance  with this idea -  for he rocked
from side  to side  with a  gentle yet  constant and  uniform sway. Having
rapidly  taken  notice  of  all  this,  I  resumed  the  narrative  of Sir
Launcelot, which thus proceeded:
     "And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of  the
dragon, bethinking himself  of the brazen  shield, and of  the breaking up
of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of  the
way before him, and approached valorously over the silver pavement of  the
castle to where the shield was  upon the wall; which in sooth  tarried not
for his  full coming,  but fell  down at  his feet  upon the silver floor,
with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound."
     No sooner had these syllables passed  my lips, than - as if  a shield
of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of  silver
became  aware  of  a  distinct,  hollow,  metallic,  and  clangorous,  yet
apparently  muffled  reverberation.  Completely  unnerved,  I leaped to my
feet;  but  the  measured  rocking  movement  of  Usher was undisturbed. I
rushed to the  chair in which  he sat. His  eyes were bent  fixedly before
him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony  rigidity.
But, as I placed  my hand upon his  shoulder, there came a  strong shudder
over his whole person; a sickly  smile quivered about his lips; and  I saw
that he spoke in a low,  hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if  unconscious
of  my  presence.  Bending  closely  over  him,  I  at length drank in the
hideous import of his words.
     "Not hear it?  - yes, I  hear it, and  have heard it.  Long - long  -
long - many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it - yet I  dared
not - oh, pity  me, miserable wretch that  I am! - I  dared not - I  dared
not speak! We have put her living  in the tomb! Said I not that  my senses
were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in  the
hollow coffin. I heard them  - many, many days ago  - yet I dared not  - I
dared not speak! And  now - to-night -  Ethelred - ha! ha!  - the breaking
of the hermit's door,  and the death-cry of  the dragon, and the  clangour
of the shield! - say, rather,  the rending of her coffin, and  the grating
of the iron hinges  of her prison, and  her struggles within the  coppered
archway of the vault! Oh whither shall  I fly? Will she not be here  anon?
Is she  not hurrying  to upbraid  me for  my haste?  Have I  not heard her
footstep  on  the  stair?  Do  I  not  distinguish that heavy and horrible
beating of her heart? MADMAN!" here  he sprang furiously to his feet,  and
shrieked out  his syllables,  as if  in the  effort he  were giving up his
soul - "MADMAN! I  TELL YOU THAT SHE  NOW STANDS WITHOUT THE  DOOR!" As if
in  the  superhuman  energy  of  his  utterance  there  had been found the
potency  of  a  spell  -  the  huge  antique  panels  to which the speaker
pointed, threw slowly  back, upon the  instant, ponderous and  ebony jaws.
It was the work of the rushing  gust - but then without those doors  there
DID stand the lofty and enshrouded  figure of the lady Madeline of  Usher.
There was  blood upon  her white  robes, and  the evidence  of some bitter
struggle  upon  every  portion  of  her  emaciated frame. For a moment she
remained trembling and reeling to  and fro upon the threshold,  then, with
a low moaning  cry, fell heavily  inward upon the  person of her  brother,
and in her violent  and now final death-agonies,  bore him to the  floor a
corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
     From that chamber,  and from that  mansion, I fled  aghast. The storm
was still  abroad in  all its  wrath as  I found  myself crossing  the old
causeway. Suddenly there shot  along the path a  wild light, and I  turned
to see whence a gleam so unusual could wi have issued; for the vast  house
and its shadows were alone behind  me. The radiance was that of  the full,
setting, and  blood-red moon  which now  shone vividly  through that  once
barely-discernible  fissure  of  which  I  have before spoken as extending
from the roof of the building,  in a zigzag direction, to the  base. While
I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened - there came a fierce breath of  the
whirlwind - the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight  -
my brain reeled as  I saw the mighty  walls rushing asunder -  there was a
long tumultuous shouting sound like the  voice of a thousand waters -  and
the deep and dank  tarn at my feet  closed sullenly and silently  over the
fragments of the "HOUSE OF USHER."

    1839



Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page
Sergey Petrushanko hammillru@mail.ru, 1998-2017